As eldercare provider Sam Christy helps her clients age in place, she faces her own struggle to remain on Bainbridge Island, where the cost of housing is prohibitive to those in her profession. Buying an affordable HRB home at Wintergreen would keep her where she belongs.

Sam Christy knows an unusual number of songs from the 1940s for someone so young. As the owner of Elevated Eldercare, she sings these jingles with her clients, often starting a line and inviting them to complete it. She sings for the shared joy it brings, but also as a means of cognitive stimulation, her tenderness for her clients merging with her training in dementia care.

In addition to this sort of enrichment activity, Sam serves as a geriatric care manager, arranging care for her clients during episodes of heightened need, perhaps following surgery, and mapping out a long-term plan so that they might continue to live safely at home. In her capacity of certified nursing assistant and medication technician, she supports her clients in activities of daily living, such as bathing and dressing, and with more technical tasks, such as catheter and colostomy bag management, wound care, and medication administration. She also accompanies them to doctor’s appointments, writing down diagnoses and instructions and sharing observations that could only come from such close relationships. If you are contending with the medical and social complexities of aging, whether you are alone or surrounded by family, you would do well to find such a companion, nurse, social service and medical advocate, surrogate family member, and protectress.

But Sam is struggling to stay on Bainbridge Island, where almost all her clients live and where there are few housing options for someone in her profession. She’s rented a few ADUs and a couple of rooms in a kind of modern-day boarding house, she’s lived alone and with roommates, and for the last year, she has been housesitting. After moving 40 times in 45 weeks, she now finds herself with relative housing stability – a two-month stint in a friend’s house.

Sam is on the waitlist for a home at Wintergreen, where HRB is acquiring 31 affordable homes for its community land trust. To save for a down payment, she has supplemented her income by substitute teaching (she has degrees in teaching and French), driving the ski bus for Parks and Rec, and working as lifeguard at the aquatic center. An affordable home with HRB, with monthly payments less than market-rate rent on the island, would be the housing security she has long sought and a base from which to continue to provide invaluable services to older islanders.

Sam’s housing struggles are not unique. Laura Ter Louw, human resources director at Bainbridge Senior Living (BSL), reports that of the roughly 40 caregivers working at their four island facilities, only two live on Bainbridge. Another local geriatric manager, who declined to share her name so as not to attract new clients to her fully booked practice, has seen caregivers doubling up with family members full time, or living part time with family to minimize travel time.

The commute is hard on the employee, but the inevitable missed shifts and late arrivals caused by extreme weather and traffic are hard on businesses too. During one especially severe snowstorm, BSL caregivers spent the night in the facilities, and a staff member drove door to door in her four-wheel drive car, picking up staff who lived off island.

According to a survey by AARP, 90% of adults over the age of 65 wish to “age in place,” that is, to remain in their home and community safely, independently, and comfortably. But it can be difficult to find the necessary care. “Because we are an island, we are more resourceful,” observed the geriatric care manager. “We are creative in where we look for help. If you don’t have family, it can be amazing neighbors.” One client comes to mind, a widower who lives like a hermit and who relies on the kindness of neighbors. “It’s not enough, but it’s something, and he appreciates it.” Sam also sees neighbors helping neighbors, but she has also seen “really burnt-out family members.”

If people must leave their homes, the preference is to move to an assisted living facility close by and be near family. About 75% of residents at Bainbridge Senior Living had already lived on Bainbridge, and almost all have family on the island. In fact, Madison House, the first of the BSL facilities and the first assisted living community in Kitsap County, was started by Don Roose for his own mother-in-law. She wanted to downsize but could not find the home or services she needed on Bainbridge Island. And he wanted to keep her nearby.

Sam can relate. She doesn’t want to leave Bainbridge Island, either. She has led a peripatetic life—a Midwest childhood, followed by stints in Montana and eastern Washington, adventures in California, Arizona, Kentucky, and even Switzerland and France, where she put her French to use as a nanny and summer camp counselor. Ultimately, a friend in Bremerton invited her to stay as she looked for work in the area. Soon after, a job brought her to Bainbridge where she lived for a time without a car, walking and biking everywhere. “I built from the ground up here and fell in love with it.”

After most of the last nine years on Bainbridge, she knows this place intimately, and her affection for Bainbridge shows in the activities she plans for her clients. She takes them on the “three beach tour,” that is, Manitou, Pleasant Beach, and Fay Bainbridge, which she learned from a friend who used to drive a bus for BSL. She visits the dog parks and trails where opportunities for “functional fitness” abound and which are especially important for her clients with Parkinson’s who benefit from stepping over roots and rocks with her assistance. Likewise, an outing to Town & Country is so much more than a shopping trip, but an occasion to reminisce about food and interact with young families and teens, to bring back the sense of normalcy that comes with old routines. They attend shows together at Bainbridge Performing Arts and people watch downtown—all things she enjoys.

Right now, Sam’s application for a home at Wintergreen is underway. If everything goes according to plan, she’ll move in this spring. Welcome news for Sam—and her clients.